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Lifewire / Emily Ramirez
Clear, precise sound tuned for film
Complete 5.1.2 channel setup
Dolby Atmos and STD-X Support
Music sound unbalanced
Subwoofer phase can't be adjusted
Looks could be more sophisticated
The Vizio SB36512-F6 5.1.2 Soundbar system is an incredible value system for film enthusiasts who want the Dolby Atmos experience without the Dolby Atmos pricetag.
The Vizio SB36512-F6 5.1.2 Soundbar System is a robust set of speakers that can hold their own against sets that cost over twice as much. Not only do they have a clean, pleasant sound that’s perfect for film, but they also support Dolby Atmos and DTS: X. Sure, the soundbar, and speakers look a little funny, but their compact size is well suited to smaller apartments where they can roar away.
Despite consisting of four speakers, this soundbar system is extremely compact and perfect for small rooms or minimalists. The soundbar itself measures three feet across, and it’s about as tall and deep as an Altoids tin (3.2 x 2.5 inches, to be precise). In this small space, Vizio managed to pack in five 2.75-inch drivers. It would blend seamlessly with the bottom of an average TV if it were a little longer.
The rear channel speakers are so small they almost fit in the palm of my hands. They measure 2.5 x 2.75 x 5.75 inches (HWD), and they make the Nintendo Switch look big. A typical rear channel bookshelf speaker measures about 7 x 13 x 9 inches. Of course, Vizio’s tiny speakers have tiny 2.12-inch drivers to match.
There’s also a subwoofer with a 6-inch driver included. Somehow, it manages to weigh about a pound and measure about the same size as an ELAC b5.2 bookshelf speaker, which weighs over ten pounds. If you hate lifting heavy equipment, you might be pleased that everything weighs so little, but know that the heft in speakers is what gives the sound its richness.
Aesthetically, I wish the soundbar system looked a little more premium than its cheaper Vizio cousins. The sides of the speakers have a matte silver finish on plastic that looks and feels flimsy, and the fronts are covered with black cloth. The soundbar also has five white LED indicators on the left of its front side, as well as manual control buttons on the top. However, if you’re not keen on getting off your couch every time you want to adjust the volume, the system comes bundled with a remote.
What’s nice about this soundbar bundle is that you don’t have to buy any additional cables to set it up. It comes with a cable for every input it offers, which includes HDMI, TOSLINK, RCA, USB, and coaxial. They even come bundled with cable ties so you can manage your space and keep it neat. If you prefer to mount your speakers, there are wall brackets for the several components of the setup.
While it’s great that the system is partially wireless to avoid running a wire across the room, you will still have to deal with wires connecting the rear channels to the subwoofer. The included wires are over 10 feet long, but they are thin and kinky.
The soundbar’s remote is excellent. It’s small, about the size of a smartphone, and it comfortably fits in the hand. It has all the standard media playback buttons you’d imagine, from volume to play/pause. At the top of the remote, there’s a nifty little panel that helps read out the active input, your position in the menu, and more.
For someone who’s never set up a surround system before, the hardest part of the setup is likely to be placing the speakers properly. The manual doesn’t give much advice besides “make sure speakers are at ear level”. So, here’s my advice. Make an equilateral triangle between the soundbar’s center and the two rear channel speakers.
The rear channel speakers should be directly left and right of wherever you plan to sit (say, your couch), at eye/ear-level. The soundbar should be at or slightly below ear level. The subwoofer should be directly behind you, on the floor, with a small gap between the subwoofer and the couch.
Connecting the speakers is straightforward. All the wires are labeled and some are color-coded, so just plug them in as the manual’s diagram instructs you to. Make sure both the soundbar and the subwoofer are on, and then adjust the speakers’ sound to your preference in the menu. I personally find the subwoofer too loud by default, so I recommend lowering its volume relative to the rest of the setup. Finally, you can check which output is active using the remote’s panel.
These speakers sound a lot larger than they are. They easily fill a small to medium living room, and they’re awesome for home theater. Compared to a 5-channel system of the ELAC Debut 2.0 speaker lineup (plus an SVS SB-1000 subwoofer), the Vizio SB36512-F6 system felt louder for the same actual volume, thanks to its pronounced treble. However, the sound isn’t as rich as with a more mids-heavy setup.
Dialogue and sound effects are crystal clear, making them perfect for watching movies and TV shows. Unfortunately, this same tuning means they’re not great for music. Mid-trebles and bass are strong and well-defined while mids are recessed. This means voices and booms are the stars, but you may have trouble picking out mid-range instruments like guitars.
These speakers sound a lot larger than they are. They easily fill a small to medium living room, and they’re awesome for home theater.
While the entire system does a good job of portraying a full sound stage, the soundbar itself doesn’t have a strong stereoscopic sound stage, so stereo films may sound uni-directional.
Meanwhile, there’s a rather obnoxious issue with the subwoofer. There’s no way to tune the speaker system, and sound needs to travel. In most circumstances, your subwoofer is a lot closer to you than your soundbar, so a properly tuned system accounts for that and delays the subwoofer’s audio. Because this system isn’t tuned, the bass is often out of phase with the rest of the audio, and the overall sound can get hectic. Considering that a cheap microphone costs a few dollars to manufacture, Vizio should have included a calibration kit with this system to fix this easily avoidable problem.
Audio delay aside, the subwoofer sounds decent. It only goes down to 40Hz, so you won’t be getting any nuanced atmospheric rumbles, but the bass you do get is clean and easy to discern. Because it’s actually tuned quite high for a sub, the bass can cut through a little too strongly, but you can turn down its volume in the system’s menu.
Should you have access to content with Dolby Atmos codecs, the Vizio SB36512-F6 system handles it beautifully. You mostly see this codec in 4K films. It usually offers a better sound stage, clarity, and mastering than a non-Atmos track. The Vizio soundbar system takes full advantage of it, providing a richer voice, soundtrack, and sound effects.
Despite the system’s quirks, it still manages to deliver an overall superb experience for the average home theater enthusiast. It’s astonishingly clear and pleasant for not only its size but also for its sub-$500 price point. If you want a system with a noticeably improved sound, you’d be spending upwards of $1,000 to achieve it (our ELAC/SVS setup is $2,200, for instance). It’s a worthwhile investment if you want to use your system for a lot of music-related content, but you’d otherwise not see much benefit over Vizio’s ear for the film. Spend the extra money on a great Blu-ray library.
Compared to other sound systems, the Vizio SB36512-F6 5.1.2 Surround System is fairly utilitarian. It has Bluetooth and basic Chromecast support, little LED lights to signal various settings and a few default audio tunings. Bluetooth and Chromecast work as you would expect: pair a device and control the music through the device.
The LED sidelights signal volume, active input, and other settings. However, with over 20 different things it could be signaling, it’s hard to tell what it’s actually saying. The remote’s little panel is a much better indicator, as it spells out whatever you’re adjusting. If you’re changing the input, it will spell what input is active, for instance. That’s much more helpful than five dimly glowing white lights.
The system’s default tunings include such presets as cinematic, direct, stereo, and surround. While direct playback audio without modifiers, the other ones shape audio to emphasize certain aspects— surround turns 2.1 audio into a 5.1 experience, for instance. I felt the presets often modified the audio too strongly, and I would have appreciated a scale for modifications rather than a binary choice. If you enjoy them, that’s excellent, but I personally preferred to play audio directly and adjust the treble, mids, and bass manually in the settings menu.
This system’s most notable feature is its ability to decode Dolby Atmos and DTS: X, which gives the sound a fuller and more nuanced body. Because of the speakers’ inherent clarity, they’re about to really take advantage of these codecs to improve the movie experience.
The Vizio SB36512-F6 5.1.2 surround system is an excellent value for $500, and it’s a no-brainer if you manage to nab it on sale. It costs about the same as a solid Dolby Atmos receiver, and you don’t need to deal with a fussy setup. Vizio’s punching well above its weight with this set, thanks to its superb audio quality and key features that tend to be the selling points of much more expensive soundbars.
The Vizio SB36512-F6 5.1.2 surround system is an excellent value for $500, and it’s a no-brainer if you manage to nab it on sale.
There’s nothing quite like this Vizio SB36512-F6 5.1.2 surround system at a similar price point. Sub-$500 soundbar systems either skimp out on Dolby Atmos and DTS:X, or they’re not a 5.1 surround at all. That said, there are some excellent products under $500 that fill in niches the Vizio system doesn’t quite nail.
If you listen to a lot of music, it may be worth looking into a soundbar that can handle that. The Q Acoustics M4 Soundbar is a rich, dynamic bar that’s a joy to listen to regardless of what you throw at it. Made by an audio-only company, this soundbar does as beautifully with music as it does with film. While it’s only capable of producing stereo playback, it offers a built-in subwoofer and a reasonably full soundstage for its $350 price tag. It isn’t quite as well suited for films as the Vizio system, since it lacks Atmos and DTS:X support.
Lots of value for an affordable price.
It’s unbelievable how much value Vizio managed to pack into the SB36512-F6 soundbar set. For $500, you get a soundbar, two rear speakers, and a subwoofer that hold their own against $1,000+ setups. Your films and shows will sound awesome, especially if they’re Dolby Atmos-compatible. However, if you’re more of a music buff, you should look elsewhere, as Vizio’s tuned this system’s sound so heavily in favor of film that music can sound hollow and lifeless.